Updated: Dec 5, 2020
A while back, Tracey (who attends class at the studio) posted on Instagram asking how we move from a practice that is inwardly focused and centred around the self to an outward practice of compassionate work in the community.
At the time we talked in class about the self with a small "s" and the Self with a big "S". The inward focus we have in yoga brings us to a realisation of our fundamental selves, that which is most basic in ourselves, and this most basic sense of self is recognisable in others. The very fundamental sense of being alive is universal and when we are in touch with that in ourselves we can find a connection to others that allows us to see others differently.
We may see, for instance, not the angry person yelling at us, but the confused, let down person who can only find an outlet in anger.
In this way, we explored how our yoga practice is more than a physical practice, more than a practice related to the (small "s") self. But I was frustrated with some of the things I couldn't work out how to express at the time, in our conversation. Reading what's written above, I feel that it speaks of the theory of yoga, more than the practice. What I love about yoga is the very real nature of it. I have found personally and also as a teacher watching others on their yoga journey that the best way to come to the philosophy of yoga is to be grounded in the practice first, then to come to read about the philosophical background behind what we do in the context of an existing practice.
I well remember reading books like Donna Farhi's "Bringing Yoga To Life" and Vyn Bailey's "Patanjali's Yoga Sutras". When I began to read these yoga books, I had been practicing yoga for some time, and I found that with that context of an existing practice, rather than treating yoga philosophy as an academic subject, where knowledge is to be "gained", I was instead able to read quietly, nodding my head and feeling a sense of connectedness with the author and even relief that someone had articulated my experience. I felt that that connection to practice was missing from what I expressed in my discussions with Tracey.
Then through the week this week I was teaching handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana), and we talked about fear.
All of us, at some time in our yoga practice will come face to face with fear. It might be taking the weight of the body in handstand, it might be trusting the placement of the hands when dropping back to Urdhva Dhanurasana or it might be being able to walk in the door for the first class.
Fear is a useful emotion, not one to be ignored. Fear used wisely, can help to keep us safe. What we do in yoga is observe our emotional response to a situation we have willingly put ourselves in, and can choose to withdraw from if we need to.
In class, introducing handstand to new students we looked at where our fear was coming from. If the strength, the openness, the integration is not there, then it's not the right time to be in that pose, and our fear will help to clarify that. If the basic physical components are all there, and the resistance is emotional, that doesn't necessarily mean we can be in the pose, but it's a different kind of issue. We use yoga to explore our "selves" in this way, and I would guess that everybody who has been in yoga classes at Penrith Yoga Studio has an understanding of this.
So let's now look at how that might relate to the outside world (Tracey's initial question). We live at a time when human behaviour is crippling the earth's capacity to keep us alive. Climate change and loss of biodiversity are threatening to unbuckle the ecological systems that we are part of. We know this, and yet carbon emissions and ecological destruction continue. Why?
A friend who saw the recent David Attenborough show Climate Change: The Facts said she just found it depressing. And so did I. But here is where the practice of yoga comes into play:
Can we as yoga practitioners, not be incapacitated by this information, but instead, go through a process that we know? A process of looking at our fear.
I fear for my children's future. I fear that we as a society will continue to not do enough, and that we will find ourselves dealing with the worst case scenarios, one of which is complete extinction of the human species.
Some years back, I read Clive Hamilton's "Requiem for a Species" in which he says we need to grieve. We need to grieve for the future we are not going to have. One way or another, future generations will not be living the way we thought they would, whether because there has been massive ecological destruction that could not be stopped, or whether we act in time and make the transition to a different world. Until we go through that grieving process, we cannot act.
Our yoga practice puts us in good stead to grieve. To be there, with the myriad emotions around climate catastrophe. And from there, to come out the other side, and find a way to make the changes that need to be made.
At Penrith Yoga Studio our small part in this process includes:
• Supporting the Global Climate Strike on September 20. https://www.schoolstrike4climate.com/sept20 https://www.notbusinessasusual.com.au/ • Using Diamond Energy as our electricity provider because they focus on renewables. https://www.greenelectricityguide.org.au/ • Requesting vegan or vegetarian food when catering for functions at the studio. • When purchasing equipment for the studio, making the most earth friendly choice we can. • Possibly altering the studio timetable at times of climate rallies to allow and encourage attendance at climate protests.
See also this blog from Frank Jesse in Victoria: https://www.griffinshill.com.au/blog/why-every-yogi-must-take-care-of-the-environmentby-frank-jesse